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15 Best Historical Fiction Books Recommended By Historians and Novelist : Alison Weir/Vanora Bennett

Updated: Aug 5, 2023

Historical fiction is a captivating genre that allows readers to immerse themselves in the past, experiencing the lives of characters in bygone eras.

In this blog post, we bring you a curated list of 15 must-read historical fiction books, recommended by esteemed experts in the field: Alison Weir, Vanora Bennett, and Tendai Huchu. Each expert brings their unique perspective and passion for historical storytelling, making this list a treasure trove for history enthusiasts and fiction lovers alike.

Affiliate Disclaimer: This post features Amazon affiliate links, which means I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase through these links.

“As a historian, I quickly abandon historical novels if I realise that whoever wrote them hasn’t done very much homework.”

1. The Town House by Norah Lofts:

Step back in time to medieval England with this compelling saga that follows the lives of two families living in the same house over the course of centuries. From the tumultuous times of the Black Death to the opulence of the Tudor court, this novel explores the triumphs and tragedies of everyday people through history, providing a vivid tapestry of England's past.

2. Katherine by Anya Seton:

Delve into the captivating tale of Katherine Swynford, the remarkable woman who captured the heart of John of Gaunt, one of England's most powerful men. Set against the backdrop of the 14th-century Plantagenet dynasty, this richly detailed historical romance weaves a mesmerizing narrative of love, ambition, and resilience.

3. A Mortal Malice by Hilda Lewis:

Uncover the secrets and intrigues of the Tudor court in this gripping novel that reimagines the tumultuous life and reign of King Henry VIII. From the perspective of his adversaries and allies, this vivid historical fiction paints a vivid picture of political machinations, betrayals, and the perils of being close to power.

4. Green Darkness by Anya Seton:

Set in the Elizabethan era, this masterful novel weaves together the lives of two women, one from the past and one from the present. Bound together by a shared history and a long-lost love, the narrative spans centuries and explores themes of reincarnation, love's enduring power, and the timeless struggle between good and evil.

5. Avalon by Anya Seton:

Journey to the mystical world of Glastonbury and the reign of King Arthur in this enchanting novel. Blending history, legend, and romance, "Avalon" follows the life of Rumon, a young nobleman who becomes involved in the epic tales of Camelot and the quest for the Holy Grail.

1. Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters:

In Victorian England, follow the life of Nan King, a young oyster girl turned music hall performer, as she navigates a world of love, passion, and societal expectations. This daring and evocative novel explores themes of sexuality, identity, and self-discovery against the backdrop of the vibrant and colorful 19th-century entertainment scene.

2. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel:

Dive into the intrigues of the Tudor court and the rise of Thomas Cromwell, the enigmatic advisor to King Henry VIII. This award-winning historical masterpiece offers an intimate and insightful portrayal of the political machinations, religious upheavals, and personal ambitions that shaped one of the most transformative periods in English history.

3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy:

Experience the epic saga of five aristocratic families during the Napoleonic era, exploring themes of war, peace, love, and destiny. Tolstoy's monumental work delves deep into the human psyche, examining the profound impact of historical events on the lives of individuals and society as a whole.

4. An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears:

Set in 1660s England, this gripping tale unravels a murder mystery through the perspectives of four different narrators, each with their own hidden motives and truths. Amidst the backdrop of Restoration England, this captivating historical fiction delves into the complexities of human nature and the ambiguity of historical truth.

5. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco:

In the heart of a medieval abbey, a Franciscan friar investigates a series of mysterious deaths, revealing a complex web of politics, philosophy, and religious fanaticism. This intellectually stimulating historical thriller combines a gripping murder mystery with profound explorations of religious and philosophical debates of the 14th century.

“Prior to literacy, a lot of the world’s cultures collected their history in the form of myths and fantastic stories. And so, when you get that in a historical novel, it might actually be a return to the way that things used to be, as opposed to a brand new innovation.”

1. Kintu by Jennifer Makumbi:

Delve into the rich history of Uganda through the Kintu family, spanning generations and exploring themes of tradition, colonialism, and the complexities of human relationships. This captivating novel weaves together the past and present, offering a profound exploration of identity and the enduring legacy of history.

2. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke:

Enter a world where magic and history intertwine, as two magicians revive the practice of English magic during the Napoleonic Wars. Set in an alternative 19th-century England, this imaginative and spellbinding novel combines historical events with enchanting fantasy elements, creating a unique and captivating narrative.

3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy:

Experience the epic saga of five aristocratic families during the Napoleonic era, exploring themes of war, peace, love, and destiny. Tolstoy's monumental work delves deep into the human psyche, examining the profound impact of historical events on the lives of individuals and society as a whole.

4. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe:

Explore the impact of European colonization on traditional Igbo society in Nigeria, as seen through the life of Okonkwo, a respected leader struggling to maintain his culture and identity. This powerful and seminal novel offers a poignant portrayal of the clash between tradition and colonial influence in Africa.

5. This September Sun by Bryony Rheam:

Set in post-colonial Zimbabwe, this poignant novel follows the journey of Ellie, a woman grappling with her past, family secrets, and the complexities of her homeland's history. Through the protagonist's reflections, "This September Sun" offers a moving exploration of identity, memory, and the lasting effects of historical events.

With these 15 remarkable historical fiction books recommended by historians and novelists Alison Weir, Vanora Bennett, and Tendai Huchu, readers are invited to explore diverse eras and cultures through the captivating lens of storytelling.

From medieval England to post-colonial Africa, these novels offer immersive experiences that illuminate the past and its lasting impact on the present. Whether you seek rich historical settings, intriguing characters, or profound insights into human nature, these books are sure to captivate and enlighten readers of all tastes. Happy reading!

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